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Cardiff children’s swimming ability lowest across all of Wales, as new initiative formed to tackle participation barriers

News | 5 March 2024

Only 16% of children in Cardiff can swim, the lowest figures for any local authority in Wales, according to the latest data collected by Cardiff Metropolitan University and Swim Wales.

Levels of swimming ability are assessed against the Nofio Ysgol School Swimming and Water Safety standard, a Swim Wales framework. Cardiff’s figures are considerably lower than the Welsh average of 41%.

In addition, Cardiff has one of the lowest levels of participation in swimming lessons in primary schools across all of Wales. Only 57% of primary schools in Cardiff in the academic year 2022/23 sent pupils to swimming lessons.

Across Wales, the data shows that over half of children who engaged in swimming activities demonstrated unsafe abilities in water. Only 41% of children in Years 3-6 (aged 7-11) who attended School Swimming in 2022/23 in Wales can swim 25 metres unaided, as assessed by the School Swimming and Water Safety Data Collection.

Swimming is widely recognised as an important life skill, but data from Cardiff Met and Swim Wales indicates that many school children across Cardiff are missing out due to affordability, with the average cost of a 30-minute lesson at £7.66 for 2023/24, an all-time high in Wales.

In response to the figures, a group of organisations have joined together to tackle the low swimming participation figures in Cardiff, including Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff Met Sport, Swim Wales, Feathers Association, Sport Wales, Public Health Wales, GLL, Legacy Leisure, the Vale of Glamorgan Council, Cardiff Council and the Urdd. The partnership aims to raise awareness about the importance of making school swimming and water safety education a standard practice in Cardiff schools.

The group suggests that the primary method to ensuring every child acquires essential swimming skills is through the implementation of annual School Swimming Lessons in all schools.

Ryan David, Aquatics Development Manager at Cardiff Met Sport, said: “The figures from across Cardiff are concerning and could mean many children across the city are at risk of not learning an important, life-saving skill. Many families rely on school swimming lessons because of affordability issues and other barriers like transport.

“The formation of the group of key organisations will allow us to explore what barriers to participation are at play when it comes to schools participating in lessons and hopefully give us a better understanding of what changes need to be made to improve the figures long term, so the next generation aren’t missing out on this skill.

“We are working towards a comprehensive strategy to engage every school in Cardiff in affordable school swimming lessons, with a focus on standardising delivery models and ensuring a consistent learning experience for all. This will ensure every child in Cardiff can become confident and competent in and around water.”

Swim Wales has recommended that schools and providers emphasise the importance of learning to swim and developing water competence skills, not just for health and wellbeing benefits, but specifically for the potential to prevent drownings and save lives.

Swim Wales National Learn to Swim Manager, Hanna Guise, said: “School Swimming and Water Safety education is barely holding its head above water; swimming ability in Welsh children is at an all-time low. To combat this, Swim Wales, in collaboration with our national partners, wish to highlight the importance of learning to swim and developing water competence skills. Together, we can help prevent drownings, save lives and make a positive contribution to the wellbeing of children in Wales.

“Experiences in school shape our future relationship with swimming, water, and all aquatic activities and could have a lasting impact and influence on a child’s behaviour and decision making in and around water. Collaboration between all stakeholder organisations is vital to ensuring that all children in Cardiff are able to have fun and be safe in and around water.”

For more information, please contact aquatics@cardiffmet.ac.uk.